A 14-point halftime lead had melted away Saturday, victim to a Lynx offense that struggled both to hit a shot and to take care of the ball.
At home, against the archrival Sparks, on the night Seimone Augustus made her return to Target Center, in an already chippy game, with the score tied early in the fourth quarter, Rachel Banham found herself with the ball behind the three-point line.
Moments later, same result.
Two shots, six points, drought ended, the Lynx never trailed again in an 80-64 victory in which five technical fouls were called. But more on that in a bit.
Back to Banham. Afterward Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve jokingly referred to Banham putting on a cape. The team needed something good to happen, and Saturday Banham was it.
“Game changer,” Crystal Dangerfield said of those two threes. “And we needed it.”
“She totally flipped it for us,” Napheesa Collier said.
On a night when the Lynx bench dominated, outscoring Sparks reserves 41-2, those two threes by Banham and Dangerfield’s teardrop in the lane ended a quarter’s worth of bleeding for the Lynx (4-5), putting them up eight and in the lead for good.
“I just wanted to come in and be aggressive,” said Banham, who hit all four of her three-point shots and scored 12 points. “We weren’t playing great. The third quarter [in which the Lynx had eight turnovers while being outscored 22-8] was just kinda gross. I was going to let it fly if I was open. I was like, ‘I’m going to let it go.’ “
This was a game in the grand tradition of the Lynx-Sparks rivalry, a chippy game from the start that got hotter as the game went on. Three of the five technicals were on the Lynx, the first on Reeve for arguing an offensive foul call on Sylvia Fowles. But then, midway through the fourth quarter, with the Lynx up six, Collier drove the lane and was fouled, hard, by Arella Guirantes. Collier, usually the most even-keeled player on the court, took issue with the foul and a post-play push. And then Sparks center Amanda Zahui B — the former Gopher — came over and pushed Collier again.
By the time that was over four more techs had been called, two on each side, and the Lynx were hot. They outscored the Sparks 12-2 the rest of the way.
When Collier is getting teed up, you know things are intense. “Phee, she’s not going to let anybody push us around,” Dangerfield said. “It’s like Syl said, ‘We won’t let anybody punk us.’ ”
Clearly motivated, Fowles finished the game strong, scoring seven of her 15 points in the Lynx’s 23-7 fourth quarter. She also had nine boards, five steals and four blocks.
But this game was turned around by the Lynx bench led by Dangerfield (16 points) and Banham. And this was, for much of the game, with backup center Natalie Achonwa out after injuring a knee and Ariel Powers playing with an injured right thumb.
“Rachel making shots is what relaxed everybody,” Reeve said. “Then we were able to get our wits about us and start getting things done.”